Each of us are driven by the desire to reach an end; we all have unique passions and purposes that motivate and push us to reach goals that are bigger than ourselves. We are all running our own race, and we are all running that race for different reasons and because of different motivations. But no matter what the goal or what the motivating purpose, we all are driven by our own determination.
This month at Sozo, we are looking closely at the meaning of this word—determination—examining what it means to us, our kids, and our mission.
It’s funny how the will of determination can put blinders on one’s eyes, keeping one from seeing the obstacles or hardship standing in the way of goals or growth or one’s full potential. Perhaps this is the paradox of determination: when the state of one’s own will is so strong that it blinds them—but this blindness is indeed good, for it protects them from the giants of fear and hopelessness.
This is where our story begins. Daniel is one of our older Sozo Children and for years, Daniel wore these blinders of determination. Daniel grew up in a small Ugandan village, one far from our Sozo homes and community. After a short period of time when he attended school, his primary education was halted because of the financial burden it weighted upon his family. For ten years, he was unable to work toward his goal of finishing his education.
“That was the goal I wanted most: I wanted to go back to school.” – Daniel
After years of staying home, Daniel decided that if he could not attend school, he could at least work to make money for himself and his family. Leaving his family, his home, and his comfort, he left for the city where he began to work as a maid. For about a year, he served in people’s homes, taking care of their property and land.
But another obstacle stood in his way: his employers refused to pay him. His situation became unhealthy, something he soon realized. That’s when truth intervened, in a way Daniel never could have hoped.
The home where he worked sat next to one of Sozo’s homes. While Daniel worked, cleaning the compound or performing menial tasks around the house, he would listen to the Sozo community worship, pray, and do devotions together. Daniel slowly began building relationships with the Sozo family next door, and soon they invited him to join their Bible study. Daniel began attending the devotions, making friends with the Sozo boys, learning a little English, and hearing the good news of the Gospel.
Even though he was not in school and was in fact in a bad situation due to his work, Daniel was unknowingly doing what he had hoped to do all along: he was learning.
And God was working.
Soon, it was time for Daniel to move back to his small village to be with his family. As he prepared to leave, our boys reached out to Aggie, our Child Development director, asking if he could possibly attend school through Sozo. Daniel was determined to do whatever he could to continue his education; his dream was slowly turning into a reality.
Daniel came to Sozo in 2013, when he was 16-years-old. His first day there, he was enrolled in school. Because it had been ten years since he had last sat in a classroom, the administration wanted to place him in Primary-2, the equivalent of 1st grade. If Daniel had never left school, he would have nearly finished his education; but he was just now entering school with kids ten years younger than him. After much discussion, though, the school allowed Daniel to move up to Primary-4, or third grade.
Despite the fact that he was finally where he had always dreamed of being, obstacles continued to rise against Daniel. His first term in school, he did very poorly, to the point where the other children around him began to tease and make fun of him.
“I did very bad,” Daniel owned, remembering the time when he had been at the bottom of his class. Yet he was determined to not let this discourage him. “I never lost hope.”
His failures drove him to do better. Coming back to school for his second term, Daniel was determined to not only get through school; he was determined to excel. Slowly, his performance improved. He worked diligently and sought out the help of his teachers and older friends, so much so that he felt as if he was “disturbing” them, when really, he was displaying his determination to succeed. Eventually, the children who had made fun of him started coming to him, asking him for advice on how to excel academically.
This past year, in 2017, Daniel completed Primary-7. Now he is able to enter the Secondary level schooling in Uganda, something no one in his family has ever done.
“For me, my goal was to study and to finish primary and go to the next level. I wanted to show them I could do it, and do other things. I wanted to show them I could improve and that I would stand and speak English on my own.” - DANIEL
More than just achieving the goals he had set for himself, however, Daniel proved his character by becoming a leader within his school and within the Sozo community. He was appointed dormitory father, time-keeper, and class monitor, which are all honors and leadership roles in the school. Now as he prepares to enter secondary school, he is excited to pursue his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.
Daniel’s story is one that presents a beautiful picture of determination and resilience. Despite all obstacles—whether they were financial (because he could not afford school) or time-based (because he had spent ten years out of school) or cultural (no one in his family had ever achieved higher education)—he knew what he wanted to achieve, and he set out to do so. His determination held him to a higher standard, and he did not rest until he had achieved his dream.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, but what you want and how determined you are to get there. You have to take that chance and work hard. I think what matters is what you want and to get help, and you have to work hard to achieve that goal when you get the chance. Respect the people that are older than you, thank them for everything they do to help you. Seek counsel from them so that they can continue having hope in you, so that I can help other people when I grow up.” - DANIEL
Those blinders of determination, the blinders that kept Daniel from fearing the obstacles that stood in his way, produced a new form of sight: vision coming from education and the light of the truth of the Gospel.
Daniel realized that achieving his goals would not only help himself; his goals were ones that could help others as well. He wanted to learn, to grow, and to mature, not only for himself and his own betterment and advancement, but to help his family and those around him. He wanted an education to help others, to be hospitable to them, to share his story with them, and to assist them however he could. His determination was one that was unselfish, that was others-focused, and that was genuine.
At Sozo, we are determined to see our mission come to fruition: All children thriving. All communities transformed. All for God’s glory. Each of us has our own goals as we run our own race. Just as Daniel did, realize your goal, hold fast to your determination to achieve it, and do not run aimlessly.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So…do not run aimlessly.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-26